Surf explorer John Callahan has travelled to over 60 countries and discovered more than 30 surf spots world-wide. Boasting a research catalogue thicker than a six-board quiver, we tapped Callahan to share some of his more memorable sojourns.
What follows is a list of his top 10 highly-remote travel experiences. Be sure to read through these before considering trying to discover a new wave of your own.
This region is very obscure. It’s full of myriad off-the-map spots on the Pacific side of the vast Indonesian Archipelago. It’s a lost world out there — entire islands with great waves, some of which don’t see any foreign visitors for years at a time and have seen very few, if any, surfers. Many locals would like to receive more visitors (and their money). But since the infrastructure is so poor you have to hike a mile out of town and up a hill to get a basic text-only mobile phone signal and there’s no internet at all, it will likely remain uncrowded for years.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
These islands off India have Indonesia-quality waves but are remote and very difficult to reach. Extensive haggling and discreet bribery of various officials with whiskey and cigarettes is necessary to receive a “permit” to travel to many of the islands. And while we have been there, for security reasons the entire Nicobar Islands group is inaccessible to anyone without an Indian passport. North Sentinel Island in the Andamans has great reef break setups and has been surfed before. But it also has one of the world’s last un-contacted tribal groups. It is strictly illegal to go there and for more than a century, the North Sentinelese warriors have resisted all efforts at interaction with outsiders, emerging from the forest to greet any contact attempts with hostile volleys of wooden spears and poisoned arrows.
This place is so remote that it takes 24 hours of brutal bush driving on dirt roads from Antananarivo through bandit country to get there. The chain of offshore islands is even more remote, taking another four hours by boat. We camped on a small island for a week with the fisherfolk of the Vezo tribal group, surfing new waves in the Indian Ocean and learning about the culture and traditions of the Vezo people. With electricity from the generator and fuel we brought from the mainland, we were able to film an episode in the Barren Islands for our surfEXPLORE television programme on the France O network.
We hired a series of “taxi brousse” or bush taxis from the capital and spent three days travelling through the vast forest of Central Africa, passing through villages where the smell of burnt monkey fur meant there was a restaurant/petrol station up ahead. Once we reached the village at Mayumba, we surfed the incredible left sandbars for several weeks completely alone. We had to walk everywhere as we didn’t have a car and there are only two taxis in town, which are usually inoperable due to lack of fuel.
“No Man’s Land”
The Nouadhibou Peninsula on the edge of the Sahara Desert in North Africa technically does not belong to any country. It was part of the colonial Spanish Sahara until 1975, was then fought over by Morocco and Mauritania until 1990. Currently, it’s under Mauritanian Army control but not formally recognized as Mauritanian territory. A string of righthand points on the Atlantic side was our goal, but the extensive minefields were a dangerous obstacle. Because surfer Erwan Simon is a native French speaker, we found a great driver we called “Desert Master” Brahim, who knew the area well and kept within the ruts of previous vehicles at all times. No sudden explosions, great waves and no one else out surfing.
The Turtle Islands, a group of sandbars off the Sherbro Peninsula in West Africa, are postcard-perfect and home to some of the most traditional villages in West Africa. They also have great long-period groundswell waves in the right season. As there are very few visitors, we had no idea where we might stay or if we had to make a camp. But we were fortunate enough to meet a Frenchman who was building a small accommodation on these tropical islands so we were able to stay with him. We camped in tents, boating between the various islands and surfing great new waves in the Atlantic Ocean.
Cheduba Island in Rakhine state is a large island in the Bay of Bengal that had not seen any foreigners since the departure of the last British soldiers in 1948. It is technically illegal for foreigners to go there, but we didn’t know that. So when we arrived with boards and baggage, the local police let us stay under the sponsorship of a “minder” who would come and visit every few days and report back to the police. We surfed offshore dry-season beachbreak and new reef break waves on an offshore island, happily returning to the mainland after a week of idyllic island life.
This tropical archipelago is very far off the beaten track for any travellers, including surfers. After we went to Grande Comore and Anjouan Islands, we understood why — dismal infrastructure and a government so corrupt and contemptuous of its own citizens that thousands of people have attempted to emigrate illegally by boat to Mayotte, the one island in the Comoros group that is still formally part of France. Anjouan is a lush and lovely island, similar to Kauai in Hawaii with high-quality reefs and beachbreaks. And, of course, very few surfers.
Most of vast and empty Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975 in an uneasy arrangement, but travelling to the Dakhla Peninsula is simple. There is a good road along most of the coastline on the edge of the Sahara Desert with several world-class righthand point waves that are only starting to be surfed on major North Atlantic winter swells.
On a small island off the east coast of The Philippines, we were told by the village captain that we were the first foreign visitors since a garrison of U.S. Marines departed in 1945. With several good waves on the Pacific side including the magnificent “Jurassic Point,” the island is likely to have been the first landfall of Ferdinand Magellan and his tiny fleet of ships after their historic crossing of the Pacific Ocean in 1521. For such a significant island with a rich history, it remains obscure and virtually unvisited by surfers…or anyone else for that matter.